My name is Allison and I’m a Melbourne mum of two and founder of Paediatric Massage Instruction. I was formerly a primary school teacher but after baby number two, I decided a new career was in order. I studied massage therapy and gained qualifications as a remedial massage therapist, pregnancy massage practitioner and an infant massage instructor and consultant. I am passionate about helping parents build deeper connections with their young children and to also find those quiet moments in parenting that renew faith in yourself, that belief that yes, I can do this.
Those of you who have experienced a massage, whether it be a relaxation massage, a remedial massage, a pregnancy massage or a Chinese massage, know how good it made you feel at the end of it. Those of you who went back for more, ask yourself why. Was it because you understood your body was reaping the benefits of massage and you wanted that pleasurable feeling to continue? Perhaps it was the only time you felt truly relaxed, or maybe it was your special ‘me time’. Whatever reason that lead you to find a therapist and undertake a massage, you most likely felt better – physically and mentally - for having it (even if it was a bit painful at the time – remedial massage, I’m talking to you!). Infant massage offers similar benefits and not just for the lucky baby receiving the massage either.
The most obvious benefit of massage is the relaxation of our skeletal muscles. These are our voluntary muscles, which mean the muscles we move with our will. These muscles work very hard all day moving us around, picking up our coffee, tapping away at our smart-phones and they really deserve some TLC. Babies are forever waving their hands around, squirming about, and kicking their legs, so their skeletal muscles are having a pretty regular workout.
Another obvious benefit is the increase in blood and lymph circulation. Massage has always had influence over the circulatory system which is why your therapist usually tells you not to have too hot a shower afterwards in case you feel light-headed. Having a massage is like a mini-workout; your blood will be racing around your body just like you’ve finished a brisk walk. The lymphatic system is extremely important as it’s basically the bodies waste water drainage system. Any excess water is drained, reducing dangerous build up or swelling. Patients with limited mobility benefit greatly from lymphatic massage to help them drain excess lymph in their systems and improve their overall circulation.
The Vagus Nerve
The stimulation of the vagus nerve is an important one to note. The vagus nerve is one of our major nerves and has command over unconscious body procedures such as heart rate constancy, food digestion and pulmonary function. Increased vagal activity therefore has an effect on our circulatory, digestive and respiratory systems. It should come as no surprise then that infant massage has been proven to increase weight gain in low birth-weight infants, have a positive effect on reflux and colic, and to improve pulmonary function.
Stress has a huge negative impact on our bodies and our mind. People often suggest massage as a means to help relax and reduce the feeling of stress. Massage has been shown to reduce cortisol levels (stress hormones) in both children and their parents. Adults who undertake regular infant massage experience less anxiety and fewer depressive symptoms, as well as reduced pulse rate and lower cortisol levels. Infants receiving regular massage have shown a significant increase in the number and function of natural killer cells and an increase in the white blood cells that form an integral part of our immune system. The strengthening of the immune system also helps reduce anxiety, reduce crying and reduce symptoms of eczema in infants.
When we talk about babies and young children, sleep often features high on the agenda. New babies have not yet developed their regular circadian rhythms, getting night and day confused, waking and sleeping at irregular intervals which makes it tough on mum and dad. As mentioned before, massage has an effect on the stress hormone cortisol. Happily it also increases serotonin levels which play a role in regulating sleep patterns. Even better, infant massage assists in the regulation of melatonin secretion rhythms. Melatonin is a sleep hormone secreted more at night to help induce sleep, but when released in daytime hours it is associated with napping. It plays a big role in regulating a person’s body clock, or their circadian rhythms. By balancing these sleep hormones, we encourage deep sleep.
Attachment and Bonding
One of the most important benefits of infant massage, at least in my opinion, is the enhanced bonding and attachment between a child and their caregiver. There are enormous benefits to infant massage but this strengthened connection between a baby and their mother or father outweighs them all. I say that with particular things in mind, things such as postnatal depression (PND) and anxiety for example.
Research has been conducted on the effects of PND and infant massage and the results were incredibly positive. Rebuilding that bond between you and your baby when you’ve experienced something like PND or crippling anxiety or any other attachment issues is extremely difficult, mentally and emotionally. Infant massage gives you a way to back to each other and helps you build confidence in yourself as a parent. You learn to communicate with your baby, you learn her cues and begin to recognise the signs when she is tired or hungry or frustrated before it melts down into ear splitting cries. Infant massage gives you both that quiet moment together, looking into each other’s faces, communicating, bonding and encouraging you to believe that you have got this.
Information sourced from IMIS NSW Pty Ltd 2012.